How to Sleep

“Lie on your side, facing me,” Andy said. He’s my physical therapist. I’ve been having some back problems (nothing too exciting, nothing too damaged). “We didn’t talk about this last time, but what position do you sleep in?”

“On my stomach,” I said.

He started to explain how this was problematic even for people who don’t have back problems, because turning to the head to the side for so long can really torque the thoracic vertebrae.

“Um, well, it’s not all night,” I said. I pictured a typical night: I start out alone in bed, on my stomach. C comes to bed an hour later; there’s some shifting around. A few hours after that, Max or Ben climbs in with us, and I sleep on my side, curled around the child. Another hour or two, another child climbs in, and I end up on my back between them.

This is hard to explain to someone, especially if that person gets to enjoy going to bed alone or with one other person and waking up in similar conditions.

“Here,” said Andy. “If you’re on your side, you want your pillow height to be like this” — he tucked a thicker pillow under my head — “and you can also roll up a towel lightly for under your neck, like this” — and he gently put a rolled-up thin towel under my neck. Then he studied me.

“And to support your lumbar spine, you can put another folded towel here. Lift up,” he commanded, and he slipped a folded towel under my waist. “And of course this is important, too,” as he slid a pillow between my knees.

I lay there for a minute, envisioning sleeping in such a supported fashion. It was nice.

“You can also hug a pillow in your arms to further support you and keep you from rolling forward,” he said.

“Oh, if I am on my side, I’m usually leaning on the small child in front of me. So I tend not to roll forward,” I said.

Andy nodded.

“And sometimes there’s another child right behind me, so I don’t roll back.”

Andy’s expression indicated he probably didn’t experience this kind of thing. “Let’s talk about sleeping on your back,” he suggested. “So if you roll onto your back, you’d remove this” — he pulled the pillow from between my knees, the other from my arms, and the folded towel from under my waist — “and you’d want a thinner pillow, more like this one” — he replaced the pillow under my head — “and you might want a different or smaller rolled towel under your neck. You can even put it inside the pillowcase, taped to your pillow, so it’s always in the same place.”

I lay there in the new position, thinking about the other night, when I woke up at 3 a.m. to find Max hogging my pillow. I’d lifted my head to pat what I was using as a pillow and realized it was Ben’s butt. Ben didn’t seem to mind, and I couldn’t move Max off of my pillow, so I’d put my head right back down on Ben’s butt and went back to sleep.

“So give this a try,” Andy continued. “Either on your side or on your back, with these supports.”

I will. I will indeed. As soon as the kids leave for college.

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